- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Even terrorist videos are subject to interpretation.

CNN's five-day foray into al Qaeda videos this week yielded some genuine news, troubling insights, odd moments, much speculation and the pathetic gasps of a dying dog a three-minute segment CNN played several times each hour Monday.

"It is grotesque, no question," said Andrew Rowan of the Humane Society of the United States. "On the positive side, that dog footage outrages us enough so we don't become inured to violence. But how many times should it be shown? It's like seeing the trade center towers come down. It gets played so often we become numb."

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, used the dog video to illustrate that "gruesome warfare experiments like these aren't confined to the Taliban."

The group quickly posted a 1977 Israeli Defense Forces video on its Web site (www.peta.org) that shows a dog dying from the effects of nerve gas. PETA said the Israeli military also had blown up live pigs with Scud missiles and accused the Pentagon of spending $100 million "of taxpayer money" on animal experiments.

"If we damn one group's experiments, then we should damn experiments universally," PETA spokeswoman Ingrid Newkirk said yesterday. She said CNN's dog video could "use people's empathy to fire up the war machine. The scene can reach viewers who are disassociated with terrorism and make them want to retaliate. It can keep disgust alive."

Miss Newkirk questioned the frequency with which the dog video was shown. "Over and over? It's like seeing the Daniel Pearl or Monica Lewinsky imagery too often. It can be too much."

CNN said it received only 75 complaints about the dog footage. The National Journal's Hotline begged to differ, with the headline, "CNN in doghouse for airing puppy footage." (This newspaper received more than two dozen calls, mostly complaints, for publishing three sequential photographs of the dog's death.)

Some read other things into the 61-tape al Qaeda video cache, obtained two weeks ago for a reported $30,000 from Afghan locals who recovered them from a former Osama bin Laden residence last year, then buried them in the desert outside Kabul.

"I would assume that bin Laden, if he is alive, is not very happy over these videos going public," said CNN correspondent Mike Boettcher. "He could be upset, the way [Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld gets upset over Pentagon news leaks."

The tapes include documentary, instructional and eclectic footage gleaned from related groups in Bosnia and Chechnya, among other locations, CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen said yesterday. They were not meant for public consumption, he said.

"There is nothing we don't already know on these tapes," Mr. Bergen said. "But it is something we can see with our own eyes the dog dying or evidence of the links between different terrorist groups. Seeing is believing."

Which was not always the case with previous al Qaeda tapes that have surfaced under sometimes murky circumstances since late last year to be broadcast later by American networks, the British Broadcasting Corp. or Al Jazeera, the Arabic news channel.

Defense and intelligence officials have cautioned such tapes could have been "left behind" purposefully by terrorist groups. Airing the tapes, the officials argued, would only enhance terrorist propaganda.

"We are sharing all the tapes with appropriate authorities," a CNN spokesman told the Miami Herald yesterday, adding he was confident that money the network paid for them "did not go to anybody associated with al Qaeda or bin Laden."

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